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Tim Kobe / Designer

Form and function: the pioneering design and cutting-edge architecture that makes Singapore unique

We speak with Tim Kobe, the renowned designer of Apple's iconic stores, about how Singapore's urban architecture offers a high quality of life, innovative design and rich experiences.

Viewing time: 4 min

Kobe, the designer behind the original Apple stores, is now based in Singapore (Photographed by EY)

When one of the world's leading strategic designers describes a city as "lovable", it's a surprisingly endearing term coming from somebody who usually focuses on the physical aspects of bricks and mortar. Yet when Tim Kobe talks about how Singapore goes beyond the practical to embrace culture, sustainability, luxury and beauty in its urban design, it soon becomes clear just why he uses this term. From traditional colourful shophouses to the groundbreaking design of the floating Apple store and the world's tallest indoor waterfall at Jewel Changi Airport, Singapore's iconic architecture creates a unique and compelling environment.

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The world's first "floating" Apple store opened in Singapore last September

Designing the future

The founder of design firm Eight Inc, Tim Kobe moved from California to Singapore just over a decade ago, bringing with him a wealth of experience and design pedigree from working with Steve Jobs on Apple's trailblazing original stores. But when he arrived in the city, it reignited a passion in him for the area where design and retail intersect, and for the successful human outcomes that can result from that. "Strategic design is one of the ways you achieve optimal outcomes," he explains, "and I saw Singapore as almost a model for that."

Singapore's incredible floating Apple Marina Bay Sands store, the first of its kind, is an example of how the retail experience here has moved beyond traditional ideas of shopping. The store is what Kobe calls "a touch point" where people can really engage with technology. It fulfils Apple's core value of bringing cutting-edge technology to the many, elevating traditional retail into a more universal experience.

Singapore is famous for its iconic green cityscape, but, as Kobe quips, the decision to plant so many trees must have been "hard to justify to the accountants." This move reflects Singapore's celebrated forward-looking commitment not just to sustainability but to the quality of life of its residents and visitors, celebrating its heritage and creativity. "Singapore goes beyond a purely pragmatic response as a city, but addresses emotional and psychological needs as well, and focuses on the greater cultural contributions and the incredible legacy of the arts that surrounds Singapore," says Kobe.

If, as Kobe says, "great architecture is not about the shape of the architecture, it's the experience that you get from it," then being in Singapore's urban areas is to experience something that goes beyond mere buildings to create a fusion of culture, function and innovation.

Great architecture is not about the shape of the architecture, it's the experience that you get from it.

Tim Kobe

Henderson Waves is a three-dimensional structure that is the highest pedestrian bridge in the city (Credit: Shutterstock)

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The Interlace, an apartment building complex known for its unique design (Credit: Shutterstock)

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Singapore's architectural heritage is preserved in traditional Peranakan houses located around the city
(Koon Seng Road; Photographed by Yik Keat)

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The Golden Mile Complex – a Singaporean example of Brutalist architecture located on Beach Road in Kallang

Adventures in architecture

There is a wealth of exciting built structures for architecture buffs to encounter in Singapore, and the rapid evolution and development of the city means there is plenty to explore. From the cultural districts, where one can step into a vibrant and colourful history, to the design that pushes boundaries, such as the incredible apartment complex known as The Interlace, it is the range of experiences that differentiates Singapore. Kobe's personal favourites include the Henderson Waves bridge: known for its iconic wave-like structure, it is the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore — and a place Kobe loves to visit with his kids. Also on his list is the Jewel Changi Airport and the Golden Mile Complex, the latter a pioneering Brutalist work. This vertical city, whose design has been replicated across the world, has recently been earmarked for conservation due to its historical and architectural significance.

For architecture to be successful, it has to go beyond fulfilling its function on a practical level. Over the past year Singapore has had to re-evaluate, reframe and improve the experience of being in the city, while maintaining its rich variety. This means taking into account new social distancing and public safety issues such as overcrowding, a move away from mass commuting, a greater focus on local communities and growth in new satellite workspaces. "One of the biggest things that has come out of this," notes Kobe, "is that it's not just the functional things that have changed. It means we have had to start to change the way we think about creating solutions. It's this idea of dynamic stability."

Inspiring design offers people something they can really connect with — and this is what Singapore has in abundance, says Kobe. He describes the city as offering a "holistic experience" that goes beyond object, thing or landmark to create a "collection of experiences that exist." The buildings here are, after all, to be used functionally but equally to inspire those around them.

When full travel resumes, Singapore's landscape, with its combination of cutting-edge retail, curated public spaces and nature-inspired design, will come together to offer a way of living that embraces this concept, offering visitors the chance to immerse themselves in a rich architectural experience on every level. As Kobe concludes: "It's less about objectifying these things, but more about turning them into something that resonates with you on a deeper level."